Saturday, March 5, 2011


On an errand to the Post Office this morning I passed a crew of 25-30 people working to clean up the bedraggled entrance to a neighborhood. It's an old neighborhood of 'Fifties-era ranch-style homes and the modest entrance has never been neat and tidy since I've lived in the area (11 years).

"Cool," I thought. "The neighbors have banded together to clean up the entrance." But something didn't fit. The people didn't look "right" for that neighborhood. And there were signs (like those identical real estate signs that pop up, dandelion-like, every weekend along streets and at intersections) stuck along the busy roadway where the crew was working. The traffic was moving too fast for me to read the signs, but I assumed they were related to the clean-up project.

A hundred yards past the clean-up crew I saw 20-25 upscale-looking cars parked neatly (I mean, really neatly) in the parking lot of a recently-closed beer bar on that road. The cars were parked so neatly that at first I thought a used car business had taken over the bar site—but there were no prices painted on the windshields and no "Used Car" signs. So I assumed the cars belonged to the work crew. The whole thing puzzled me, and I purposed to slow down on the way back from the P.O. to try to read the signs and figure out what was up.

Passing the cars and the work crew and the signs on the way home, the traffic pushed me along too quickly to read the details on the signs. All I could catch was the color—bright orange—and the words, "Love Is Happening Here." That was enough. I figured I'd go home and let Google tell me who this group was. But before I made it home, I figured it out. This had to have something to do with Elevation Church, a multi-location mega-church in Charlotte.

How'd I know that? Branding.

1. Color. Orange is Elevation's color. Having visited the church a half-dozen times a year ago, orange is everywhere: printed materials, T-shirts, bumper stickers, and more. When I met with the senior pastor about a writing project, his office is even painted bright orange. If you see something orange in Charlotte, there's a better than average chance it has something to do with Elevation Church.

2. Parking. I don't know who handles parking and logistics for the Super Bowl, million-person marches on Washington, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but they'd be well-served to contract those services out to Elevation. When you attend Elevation, you wonder how there could be any people in the worship service since there are so many smiling, waving, "Elevators" in the parking lots directing traffic—BIG parking lots at the schools, shopping centers, and other venues where they meet. Getting in and out of an Elevation service is a piece of cake (at least when I attended) because the parking is so well organized. Returning from the P.O. and looking again at how neatly the cars in the bar parking lot were arranged—one long, diagonal row, noses out, on the street side with additional neat groups behind—it gradually hit me: nobody would park cars at a work site this neatly except Elevation.

3. Love. Elevation Church is known for tackling BIG service projects in the name of Jesus. I doubt if any of the people in the work crew lived in the neighborhood. But somebody had identified that needy entryway as something that would brighten up the main road and the neighborhood. I thought about the ubiquitous signs we see along major thoroughfares that say, "This road/highway adopted by So-and-So Civic Group"—and how I don't think I've ever seen anybody (except "chain gangs") from those groups actually doing something to beautify the roadways they've adopted. But know this: If Elevation Church decides to tackle a project, it will be done—and done well. And done in the name of Jesus, for those who care. It's a way to put some walk to their talk.

So—orange signs, an immaculate parking system, and love at work: it had to be Elevation Church. (The word "Elevation" was nowhere to be seen.)

I was right. I got home and went to the Elevation Church website and found details on the entire campaign: "Love Week Charlotte 2011" -- volunteer service projects all over Charlotte. There is plenty of info about the campaign plus a hi-tech video of last year's Love Week.

I was impressed by the work the Elevation folks were doing in my part of town—much appreciated. But I was even more impressed with how easy it was for me to figure out who the people were, and thereby what they were doing, based on three things: a color, the way the cars were parked, and the hard work that was being accomplished. In other words, the Elevation brand has become easy to recognize in Charlotte, NC (and thousands of people are "buying").

It made me wonder, What is my brand? What am I known for? Intentionally or unintentionally, everybody has a brand. Elevation, Coca-Cola, Apple, and McDonald's work hard on creating and reinforcing their brands so they are instantly recognizable. Most individuals don't since we're not "selling" anything. At least not for money. But we all are interested in spreading our worldview, our good will, our love, our influence—and maybe even a product or two. The question is, Can people pick us—our brand—out of a crowd? Or said another way, Do people feel positive about us—our brand—when they encounter us in public or when we walk into a room? If not, How do they feel? And why? (Don't ask me how I feel about the U.S.P.S. brand after standing in line for 20 minutes.)

For Jesus followers, the brand is love: "By this all me will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" (John 13:35).

Psalm 119:74 says, "May those who fear You rejoice when they see me, for I have put my hope in Your word."

Love and dependence on God's Word are two good things to be known for, but there are many others. (Even parking: 1 Corinthians 14:33.) Establishing a brand is a life-long, and ever evolving, process. Thanks to Elevation Church for providing a reminder of how effective a good brand can be. (To be accurate, there are a number of churches participating in this Elevation-sponsored Love Week. See the Love Week web site for more.)

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